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FFB blog event: Dressing like a feminist?

4 more outfits

Today is the day of the big Feminist Fashion Bloggers’ big blogging event. We are asking bloggers to answer the question:

How do you express your feminism in the way you dress?

event final

I initially didn’t really know what to do with the question. I think a big part of moving the image of feminism on, and of events projects like the Fashionable Academics ‘This is what a feminist looks like’ is that feminists come in all shapes and sizes. Some feminists go for an authentic 1950s housewife look. Some feminists live in jeans, tshirt and trainers. Some feminists are bearded men. Some feminists like leopard skin miniskirts and high heels, some prefer maxiskirts and plain shirts. Some people spend 2 hours getting ready, some 2 minutes. Some feminists don’t shave their legs, some have their nails and eyeybrows done every week. There is no one feminist look.

That being said, in the most general sense I would say that I express my feminism by expressing myself through my clothing, as a person, which includes as a woman. I love playing with clothes, with colours, textures and proportions. My style can be quite changeable, one day I will wear a 1950s day dress the next jeans and trainers. I ransack history for inspiration, and I don’t much care for fashion rules or trends.

4 outfits

As a result people often describe my style as bold, and sometimes even brave, but I don’t feel that adventurous really. My playing with clothes is very much within standard social conventions of what a young woman is expected to dress like, just maybe slightly more towards the edges of it. I do like looking pretty and I do use clothes to emphasise my figure in a way that is deemed to be flattering. Which for me, means a lot of full skirts and defined waists.

I don’t, to be honest, think that much about my politics much when picking my clothes, I mainly just have fun. In many ways, I go with what is ‘normal’, and I think that’s fine. But I do challenge expectations in small ways. Thinking about this some more, I thought four ways in which I wear what I wear for feminist reasons:

1. I am not afraid of drawing attention to myself. I will happily wear bright things, and silly things, and inappropriate things. I’m fine with people noticing me. If people don’t like what I wear, they don’t have to, I know I do. I have pretty strong opinions and I don’t care if people know. It’s taken me a long time to get there, but I am genuinely confident now.

2. I shop ethically. In the last couple of years I reckon about 75% of what I have baught clothing and accessories wise has been second hand/thrifted, fairtrade (hello, biannual bumper People Tree sale orders!) or handmade. And I’m aiming for 90%. Obviously, ethics goes beyond feminism, but given that its usually women who work in the garnment industries, paying a fair wage (Fairtrade is particularly close to my heart) can make a massive difference to women’s empowerment. Plus, I refuse to shop at Americal Apparel, after I found out about Dov Charney’s disgusting behaviour. Sweatshop free or not, I am not down with dirty old men using their power as employers to push their sexuality on staff. And not even in the most sexist of merchant banks would anyone think they could get away with referring to female employees as sluts. The sooner AA goes bankrupt the better!

3. I prioritise comfort over anything. It is very very important for me that I can move easily, that I can overeat without feeling like the seams around my stomach are going to burst, that I can run to catch a bus and that I am not too cold and not too hot. I want to be comfortable in my body and I won’t let fashion trends get in the way. That means no high heels, no clothing that’s too tight, nothing too skimpy in cold weather and nothing too covered up in the heat.

4. I do not follow beauty trends. I have never had a facial, a manicure or a bikini wax. I never straightened my hair when poker straight was the fashion. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with beauty stuff, if it makes people happy, but I’m just not interested and I don’t like the idea that I *have* to do anything. Unpainted nails and unplucked eyebrows are natural, there is nothing *wrong* with them, and I think we’re sometimes in the habit of forgetting that. And all this stuff costs so much! I know lots of people who will spend upwards of £100 a months on various treatments, but I’d rather spend the money on something else. Or save it to add to my financial independence.

These are just my own priorities and just to reiterate, I’m not opposed in principle to heels, beauty treatments or unassuming clothes. They’re just not for me, and part of the reason they are not for me is that I am a feminist.


Finally, I do need to caveat all of this by saying that I actually don’t feel under a huge amount of pressure to dress in certain way (as woman or as anything else), which may put my sartorial adventurousness (such as it is) and my ungroomedness into perceptive. I wear what I want to wear but I do so in a pretty open minded environment.

People at work, both men and women, wear anything on a continuum from jeans and jumper to full on designer business wear, and I wouldn’t say that the dressed up ones are necessarily more successful. There is no dress code and a couple of (very odd) remarks from one person aside, noone has ever told me what to wear.

My short experience of academia was no different. I read a lot on the blogs about how for female academics (in the US mainly), dressing too femininely can be a disadvantage, and women are taken more seriously if they dress ‘like men’ and don’t wear their wedding bands! Thankfully, I never saw any evidence of that where I was. While I was doing my Masters at Edinburgh Uni, there was a PhD student who wore pretty full on goth clothes, and several post docs who favoured a heavily made up and beautified look. If there were any differences in treatment, this wasn’t immediately obvious. Even in Dave’s male dominated academic field of genetics, there is diversity of looks. One of his colleagues is all hair extensions and gel nails with rhinestones on, and I’ve never noticed anyone remarking on that.

What about you? If you’re a feminist, is it reflected in your dress?

For a roundup of responses to this question, or to submit your own contribution, visit Mrs. Bossa Does the Do.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Pullyoursocksup 16 March 2011, 8:33 am

    "I prioritise comfort over anything" – yes, you had me nodding at that one. It's an interesting concept, comfort. It's so subjective isn't it? There's physical comfort – ie. Chucks vs heels; there's psychological comfort: popping out for milk in 40s evening dress vs tracksuit; professional comfort: copying the office "dress code" vs rocking 50s frocks and looking hot. My comfort zone is dressing to suit my mood – if I follow trends, I will feel completely out of place. I loved your post – you've put so much effort into this and it's lovely to learn more about you:) xo

  • Alexa Wasielewski 16 March 2011, 8:36 am

    First of all can I just say that, on your first photo top right, that scarf looks freakin' brilliant against the green. Secondly, I think what you said about being 'genuinely confident' is something that most women, including me, try to fake. It's the whole – fake it and you'll have it sort of thing. Like, although people will look at the way I dress, I automatically assume its because they don't like my outfits. Its a thing I need to get over. Thanks for this post, I definitely learnt something 🙂

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  • poet 16 March 2011, 9:46 am

    Amen! My motivations and the route they take are pretty similar. I do find it interesting that you mention how there seems to be a difference in dress-codes between the US and the UK and I wonder if this carries over to the rest of Europe. I only lived in Berkeley, which is one of the most relaxed places, everything else I know about the US is hearsay, and in Europe I haven't had any experiences beyond the academia (which are indeed very relaxed in these matters, at least in my field). I guess I'll wait and see.

  • oranges_and_apples 16 March 2011, 9:54 am

    Thanks! I had been thinking about physical comfort when I wrote this, but
    you raise some good points about other types of feeling comfortable!

  • oranges_and_apples 16 March 2011, 9:58 am

    It sound like a terribly old persons thing to say, butvit does happen
    automatically to some extent as you get older. It took me until about 26 til
    I got there! But thinking about it and taking the right attitude definitely
    helps speed things along!

    Ps. I'm 29. Almost 30.

  • oranges_and_apples 16 March 2011, 10:01 am

    I've no experience of the us either (ive only ever been to New York, which
    does not seem representative) I only know from what people say on the blogs.

  • Penny Dreadful 16 March 2011, 10:44 am

    Great post Franca. What I always notice is that you seem really happy in what you are wearing. And I really like your point about ethical clothing. This is one of my bugbears, that people can be so proud of being anti-fur (which nowadays has a special label to denote ethical farming), but yet still wear cheap high street clothing which has most likely been made in sweat shops in poor countries. How do people square that with themselves?

  • Fashionpearlsofwisdom 16 March 2011, 12:37 pm

    I am really enjoying reading everyones ffb posts, I admit I struggled with where to start with my own post. I agree that so long as you enjoy what you wear that is really all that matters. I'm an academic and we had one lecturer who was a total goth, it is pretty laid back dress sense wise. I havent read that about AA so will be checking it out, the thing I cannot stand about the brand is how close to phaedophillic the adverts are, very very young looking girls in thongs, it makes me sick.

  • Vix 16 March 2011, 1:16 pm

    Fantastic piece of writing, Franca. I love how confident you are with colour and the obvious enjoyment you have from wearing it.
    Feminist dressing is having the freedom to wear what you like, how you like and when you like it for you and you alone. No man ever feels the need to procrastinate over how others may perceive him if he wears a certain item and I don't either. xxx

  • two birds 16 March 2011, 2:20 pm

    i love this post! i love your answers, and how you paired them with all the great pictures of yourself!

  • Elly 16 March 2011, 2:27 pm

    I really like your point about your bold use of color as a feminist statement — the statement that you aren't afraid of drawing attention to yourself, that it's perfectly fine for you to be noticed and stand out, that you are confident in yourself and don't have the need to please others. I feel like clothing is too often used as a tool to "fit in" to one's surroundings…and certainly as a woman I've experienced some (perhaps internal) pressure to be restrained and not put myself too much "out there" (in general, not just in my style of dress.) Thank you for sharing this!

  • Martina Lynne 16 March 2011, 4:24 pm

    I wrote a whole post about this — check it out here:
    What did I finally end up with? I wear my feminism the same way I live my feminism: by being a woman with a brain that I value more than my tits.

  • oranges_and_apples 16 March 2011, 5:34 pm

    Yes, its funny how fur has got such a special status whereas leather
    doesn't. I think its because it looks like an animal still.

    I try not to judge people for buying cheap stuff tho, its hard to be ethical
    100% of the time and a lot of ethical stuff is v expensive and thrifting not
    for everyone. I still occassionally get weak in h&m! And I carry leather!

  • Grit and Glamour 16 March 2011, 5:36 pm

    I don't have much to add on the feminism movement happening at the moment, but I have to say, you are so very good at color-mixing/blocking. It's quite hard to do and not look like one is crazy or a clown. But you, my dear, pull it off. I'm taking notes.


  • Claire 16 March 2011, 7:03 pm

    I agree!

    Using colour can be so freeing and you, Franca, do it nicely.

  • Emily, Resplendent Tranquility 16 March 2011, 8:14 pm

    I am ever-striding toward being genuinely confident with my form of dress and outward appearance. I still find myself fluctuating, though not as much as I have in the past. And I really must make note on Pullyoursocksup's bit on comfort as a subjective concept! A lot of my self-doubt over dressing was/is psychological as opposed to physical.

    A big thank you for touching on the American Apparel issue. I no longer shop there either and there will be no love lost on my part when they tank.

  • La Historiadora de Moda 16 March 2011, 8:43 pm

    I also agree with this, and it's one of the reasons that I also tend to gravitate towards lots of colors and toward pattern-mixing.

  • Terri 16 March 2011, 9:50 pm

    Sounds like we have very similar ideas about comfort and grooming. I rarely have to unbutton to accommodate what I have eaten (Might be interesting to do a post on how feminists eat?!) and it takes me all of 15 minutes to get ready of a mornings. Like you, I work in an environment where I can choose to wear just about anything, but I do notice that "higher ups" (meaning administrators) have a sort of dress code.

  • Jeanofalltrades 17 March 2011, 4:15 am

    Great post! I love the variety of photos you included. They show a nice range of how you express yourself. I'm glad you're not afraid to get noticed! I agree about comfort – so important. How can a person be comfortable with who they are if they're not literally comfortable.

  • Shakespeare's Feminine Ending 17 March 2011, 4:47 am

    Thanks for organizing, Franca!

  • Tracey 17 March 2011, 10:03 am

    Great post! I can definitely see your answers fitting perfectly against the gorgeous outfits you wear each and every day. I love how you have such a flexible approach to fashion and style … I'm a bit of 'anything and everything' style wise too … so long as I'm comfortable and the garments are more or less ethical, I'm fine! 🙂

  • Rochelle 17 March 2011, 12:04 pm

    Franca that is a wonderful explanation of how you express your feminism. Even after seeing the question I'm having a hard time figuring how I would answer that question.

  • MrsBossa 17 March 2011, 1:25 pm

    Brilliant post, Franca. Your freedom of choice comes across in your dress, as you say – the colours, shapes and textures. You know how much I admire your personal style, so I won't wax too lyrical here.

    I like how you broke down your 'feminist thinking' into four points, and I was particularly struck – as others were – by your determination to be comfortable and your refusal to be worried about drawing attention to yourself. Taking all those things into account is a difficult balance, but you pull it off with real aplomb! I'm ashamed to say I have a lot of catching-up to do on the ethical shopping front.xx

  • Brittneynsmart 17 March 2011, 7:31 pm

    what a wonderful, insightful read. it makes me reflect on my own style choices, why i wear what i do, and how i express my femininity. thanks for this. really. lots of food for thought.
    http://adayinlifetoo.blogspot.com (my daily outfit blog; come on by if you'd like)

  • Veshoevius 17 March 2011, 9:37 pm

    This was a great event – I'm still working my way through posts – big high five to you and Mrs Bossa for organising!

    Great post and interesting to read about your personal experiences at work and in academia. Like you I was flummoxed by the question at first. I wasn't even familiar with what feminist dress codes might be out there apart from perhaps rejecting all things feminine! But the majority of posts I've read so far have been about reclaiming the right the dress however you feel like including embracing wanting to look attractive and feminine and still have the right to call oneself a feminist. You're so lucky to have a relaxed work environment to give you the scope to express yourself.

    I find beauty trends quite tiresome too! Although I try to look after my skin and I love makeup I don't really care if makeup "this season" is full face or natural or brights or whatever, I'll wear what I feel like! I never do my nails either (maybe if its an occasion like a wedding) and find the endless harping on about the latest Chanel nail colour in cadava green or corpse grey a little pointless – but each to their own!

    BTW I love you in that red polka dot dress in that top right pic!

  • Vanessa 17 March 2011, 11:40 pm

    I really liked you answers. I can relate to a lot of them. I think comfort is key. I don't wear heels. I'm uncomfortable with them. I own a few pairs, but I can't remember the last time I wore them. I've never had manicure, pedicure, and definitely not a bikini wax lol. I do get my eyebrows waxed because I'm too lazy to worry about them, and it's only $5. I think you stay true to yourself, and like you said you don't feel the need to conform to anything. That's how we should dress. We only need to please ourselves, and set our own standard.
    My Heart Blogged

  • oranges_and_apples 18 March 2011, 11:06 am

    Oh there is SO much wrong with AA! The basically recruit staff purely on
    looks (which is why I think, despite being an American company, their
    customer service is atrocious). They also have the most ludicrously detailed
    dress code. Look it up, there's tons of stuff out there!

  • oranges_and_apples 18 March 2011, 11:08 am

    Exactly! And thank you!

  • Vasiliisa 18 March 2011, 11:36 am

    First, I just started reading your blog again, and I love it!

    To your question: I have actually thought about this quite a bit, but there's no straightforward answer. I do like to wear feminine clothes, and that's a conscious choice – to me, wearing gender neutral or boyish clothing would signify being ashamed of my gender. I do realize this is not necessarily true for others, and the definition of feminine varies a lot, too. But for me, personally, it's about skirts, fitted tops and (moderate) heels. I like to send a clear message that I'm into feminine things, even stereotypical ones. BUT I don't particularly like make up or feminine hairdos; short hair and no make up is fine with me.

    I like to wear what's appropriate for the occasion – again, very subjective. But I guess I'll never understand why some bloggers pose in peep toes when it's freezing. When I go to opera I dress more formally; when I spend a weekend at a countryside cabin, I don't bring jewelry. I do think this is a feminist thing to do; as a Finnish woman I do have quite a bit of freedom of choice, and I like to use all of my opportunities.

    Most of all I don't mind being "labeled" as a person who's interested in clothing. Some people still think it's vain and shallow, or a hobby for airheads, but I don't care; I know what's on you is never just a surface.

  • Lisa 18 March 2011, 5:28 pm

    I like your rules, especially the one about comfort. It's the reason I own very few heels, and none of them are very high. I'm most interested in the ethically sourced clothing part… I want to be aware of at least the particularly bad offenders. For instance, I don't shop American Apparel because I know how bad they are, and I stopped going to Wal Mart years ago. Great post!

  • oranges_and_apples 18 March 2011, 7:51 pm

    thank you!

  • oranges_and_apples 18 March 2011, 7:54 pm

    yeah! colour really lifts my mood and for me, it expresses being full of life!

  • oranges_and_apples 18 March 2011, 8:10 pm

    Thank you V! Maybe I can tempt you away from your black uniform a little. though of course your black uniform rocks!

  • oranges_and_apples 18 March 2011, 8:10 pm

    have just been to visit, thanks for taking part!

  • oranges_and_apples 18 March 2011, 8:10 pm

    yes, its so true, psychological comfort matters so much! I hope you find your stylistic stride!

  • oranges_and_apples 18 March 2011, 8:10 pm

    The same is true of my workplace I guess, but not until a couple of grades above me. What i find interesting is that some people wear a suit and shirt, which is seen as smart, but they actually look anything but if it is illfitting. I've never really bought into the whole suit = trustworthy professional thing.

  • oranges_and_apples 18 March 2011, 8:10 pm

    Yes! for me, dressing in something that isn't comfortable (in a physical sense) is like making myself voluntarily disabled.

  • oranges_and_apples 18 March 2011, 8:10 pm

    thanks! I sometimes envy people with a really fixed style but then I like to play! Though I've already 'settled' much more than i used to.

  • oranges_and_apples 18 March 2011, 8:10 pm

    it was a hard one, I thought about it for weeks!

  • oranges_and_apples 18 March 2011, 8:10 pm

    and thanks for taking part!